International Coalition Comes Together for Greater Transparency of Avian Flu Data

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A group of leading medical researchers from around the world announced the formation of a consortium designed to improve the sharing of influenza data, analyze data findings jointly, and publish the results collaboratively as part of the Global Initiative on Sharing Avian Influenza Data (GISAID). This initiative was announced today in a letter published online by the website for the journal Nature. Among the letter’s 70 signatories are six Nobel laureates.

Data collected under the Initiative will be deposited in three publicly available databases participating in the International Sequence Database Collaboration. GISAID’s policies for rapid and complete data release are modeled upon those already established for other initiatives, such as data on DNA sequence variations in the human genome.

The GISAID consortium not only spans national borders, but scientific disciplines as well, with leaders in the fields of Veterinary Medicine, Human Medicine, Bio-Informatics, and Intellectual Property. This cross-disciplinary effort will provide new means to communicate and share information, as each discipline has distinct interests but also shares similar goals.

The Initiative is coming together to work around restrictions which have previously prevented influenza information sharing, with the hope that more shared information will help researchers understand how viruses spread, evolve, and potentially become pandemic.

The GISAID consortium is open to all scientists, provided they agree to share their own data, credit the use of others’ data, analyze findings jointly, and publish results collaboratively. The three major publicly available databases participating in the International Sequence Database Collaboration are the EBML in the United Kingdom, DDBJ Japan and US based GenBank. The consortium would publish the data as soon as possible after analysis and validation, with a maximum time window of six months to be reduced in time.

The Initiative has earned widespread international support around the goal of better understanding the spread and evolution of the influenza virus, its transmissibility and pathogenicity. With this goal in mind, the group determined scientists from different fields of expertise needed full access to comprehensive genetic sequencing, clinical and epidemiological data, and analysis from both human and animal isolates in order to better understand the virus and its potential mutation to a pandemic pathogen. It is already hailed as a model for future initiatives.

 

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